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Previewing 2016 Maryland Football

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

True to predictions, Maryland did break out to a 4-0 start this season and even got the upset they needed against Michigan State (28-17) to put themselves within striking range of a bowl game. All they need is a victory in their last two games (against the Huskers and a home game against Rutgers) to become bowl eligible. Decent bounceback season with a new coach, right?

The last two weeks have been a little rough, to put it mildly. A 59-3 loss to Michigan followed by a 62-3 loss to Ohio State has the Terrapins, well, turtling. Senior quarterback Perry Hills has been knocked out of both games when he aggravated a shoulder injury originally suffered against Central Florida. When he’s played, Hills has had decent numbers, completing 67% of his passes for ten touchdowns with just three interceptions. Hills is averaging just 127 yards passing a game and rushing for 14 more. When Hills was knocked out of last week’s game, senior Caleb Rowe replaced him in the first half and freshman Tyrrell Pigrome played the second half. Pigrome is a dual threat quarterback who completes 53% of his passes and averages 3.8 yards a rush. Rowe also completes 53% of his passes, but isn’t a threat to run (losing 13 yards on nine carries).

Freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison was leading Maryland in rushing with 633 yards until he was suspended indefinitely last week for violating the school’s code of conduct. Wednesday, Harrison and freshman wide receiver DJ Turner were charged with three counts of second degree assault in an alleged BB gun shooting on campus. He had been splitting carries with sophomore Ty Johnson, who now has 656 yards and four touchdowns rushing this season. His 8.5 yards per carry average is certainly eye-catching. Harrison’s absence should give senior Wes Brown a chance to play; he’d only seen 22 carries so far this season.

Maryland’s receiver corps was bolstered by the late addition of graduate transfer Teldrick Morgan from New Mexico this summer. Morgan’s 38 catches leads the Terrapins roster. Sophomore D.J. Moore’s 469 yards and five touchdowns receiving leads Maryland, with senior Levern Jacobs adding 31 catches for 296 yards. But if Hills isn’t available to play this weekend, it may be tough for Maryland’s receivers to get the ball.

As you might suspect after the last couple of weeks, Maryland’s defense ranks squarely in the bottom half of the Big Ten: 11th in scoring defense (30.7 yards per game), 13th in total defense (445.3 yards per game), 12th in rush defense (228.7 yards per game) and ninth in pass defense (217.5 yards per game). The Maryland defense is led by junior linebacker Shane Cockerille, who spent his first two seasons on offense playing quarterback and fullback. (Yes, that is not a typo.) Cockerille’s 87 tackles leads the Terps defense, with fellow junior linebacker Jermaine Carter’s 79 tackles close behind.

Junior defensive end Jesse Aniebonam leads Maryland with six sacks this season, while fellow defensive end Roman Braglio add another three. The secondary has been a revolving door as senior defensive back William Likely, an all-Big Ten honoree last season, tore his ACL last month. The secondary’s leading tackler, junior safety Josh Woods lost his starting spot last week in favor of sophomore Darnell Savage.

Bottom line on this game is that the biggest factor in this game is the status of the starting quarterbacks; certainly Nebraska will miss Tommy Armstrong more than Maryland will miss Perry Hills. But if both are out or both play, Nebraska should have the advantage in this game. Below, you’ll find the rest of the preseason preview of the 2016 Maryland Terrapins.

When it comes to football, Maryland presence in the Big Ten probably has to be an afterthought for most Nebraska fans. When the Big Ten expanded from 12 to 14 teams, 80% of the reaction was over Rutgers. (And what did we think? Well, this pretty much describes the reaction.) Maryland? Most Husker fans probably just thought "ACC basketball school" and moved on to gripe some more about Rutgers. (Hey, Maryland's Capital One Field is a 13 mile drive from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, for those of you who forget that television markets drove the last round of expansion.)

But Maryland football? The bottom fell out on the Terrapins last season lost their first seven conference games, finishing 3-9 with a fourth quarter comeback victory over Rutgers to end the season on a positive note. Randy Edsall wasn't around to see it though; he was dismissed at midseason. He'll be replaced this year by 38 year old D.J. Durkin, who worked under both Urban Meyer (2001-02 at Bowling Green, 2010-14 at Florida) and Jim Harbaugh (2007-09 at Stanford, 2015 as Michigan's defensive coordinator). (If you think those are two signs that he's the some sort of mutant spawn of Satan, I'll add a third for some of you: Durkin hails from Youngstown, Ohio.)

If you thought Nebraska's quarterbacks turned the ball over way too much, let me introduce you to Maryland's Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe and their 28 interceptions on 345 passing attempts. (For comparison purposes, Tommy Armstrong threw 16 interceptions on 402 attempts.) At midseason, Testudo Times pleaded for Maryland to run the ball. Hills (6'2" 210 lbs.) started eight games and completing 50% of his passes for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns, and 13 of those interceptions. Hills threw 180 passes and ran 109 times for 535 yards and three touchdowns. Rowe (6'3" 220 lbs.) threw 165 passes in four starts, completing 46% to Maryland receivers and 9% to the other team. (For those of you who don't want to do the math, that's 15 interceptions!) True freshman Tyrrell Pigrome (5'11" 180 lbs.) has impressed in preseason practice while Rowe's been banged up. Hills will open the season as the starter, but don't count out Pigrome or fellow true freshman Max Bortenschlager (6'3" 185 lbs.) from playing a bigger role as the season goes on.

Senior Wes Brown (6'0" 210 lbs.) is the leading returning running back for Maryland and would be the expected starter this season, if not for being suspended for the first three games of the season for an unspecified violation of the code of conduct. Brown was suspended the entire 2013 season for another incident that resulted in charges being filed. When was able to play, Brown rushed for 317 yards and three touchdowns last season, though with a rather pedestrian 4.5 yards per carry. Sophomore Ty Johnson (5'10" 184 lbs.) rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns last season, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He's had a good fall practice and might get the first shot this season. If he keeps that same yards-per-carry average to start the season, he might keep the job when Brown returns. New offensive coordinator Walt Bell likes a "running back-by-committee" approach, which means that Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trey Edmunds (6'1" 225 lbs.), who rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns last year, will also see his share of touches.

Seven of the top eight receivers from last season return this season, though probably in different role. Senior Levern Jacobs (5'11" 185 lbs.) led Maryland with 35 catches for 425 yards and three touchdowns last season, but looks to be in a backup role this season. Sophomore D.J. Moore(5'11" 205 lbs.) started ten games, catching 25 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman. Note the lack of size of those receivers; the entire depth chart is full of receivers under 6 feet tall. Sophomore tight end Avery Edwards (6'4" 245 lbs.) does bring a little beef to the Terrapins' passing game; he caught 14 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns last season as a true freshman.

Only two starters return on the offensive line, with a bunch of freshman and sophomore blue-chippers looking to fill the two-deep this year. Sophomore right tackle Damian Prince (6'3" 328 lbs.) was a high school all-American who started six games last season. Senior left tackle Michael Dunn (6'5" 312 lbs.) has started every game but one (last year, due to injury) his first three seasons. Will some of these youngers live up to their hype? Maryland sure hopes they do.

Maryland's defense ranked 11th in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense, and worst in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense last season. The least awful part? Ninth in the Big Ten rush defense. But with only five returning starters, will the defense step back even further in 2016? Only three of last season's top nine tacklers return, which doesn't bode well for the Terps' defense early on.

The defensive line would have been a strength if it weren't for two juniors declaring early for the NFL Draft. Senior defensive end Roman Braglio (6'2" 262 lbs.) looks like the surest thing on the Maryland defensive line; he accounted for 35 tackles last season with three sacks. Sophomore defensive tackle David Shaw (6'4" 308 lbs.) started the first four games until an elbow injury ended his season. He got a medical redshirt for last season since he only played in four games. (Hint, hint, Kirk.)

Junior middle linebacker Jermaine Carter (6'0" 240 lbs.) led Maryland with 103 tackles last season, with 14 for a loss. Junior Jalen Brooks (6'1" 232 lbs.) started 11 games this season with 64 tackles (second most of returning players), but may see less time on the field in 2016 with Maryland looking to spend much more time in nickel coverage. Instead, it looks like Junior Shane Cockerille (6'2" 235 lbs.) will see the field. Cockerille came to Maryland as a quarterback, but then moved to fullback at the start of last season. Injuries to Hills and Rowe pushed Cockerille back to quarterback for the Indiana game, where he completed 11 of 23 passes without throwing an interception. Now, he's on the other side of the ball and looks to be the second linebacker on the field in 2016.

It's interesting to note that despite having cornerback Sean Davis drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round and senior cornerback William Likely (5'7" 175 lbs.) named first team all-Big Ten last season, the Terrapins were the worst in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense. Some of Likely's honors come from his special teams skills; he returned three kicks for touchdowns last season. This season he also may line up occasionally on offense at wide receiver. In his primary role as a cornerback, he had 44 tackles and broke up 11 passes last season. Sophomore junior college transfer J.C. Jackson (5'11" 196 lbs.) picked Maryland a month ago and immediately worked his way into the starting lineup. Jackson was an Under Armour All-American in high school who initially enrolled at Florida, only to have injury and legal issues keep him off the field. All that appears to be cleared up. But Maryland needs to find some help at safety, and one to keep an eye on is sophomore Darnell Savage (5'10" 192 lbs.), who shifted out of the logjam at cornerback.

Despite going 3-9 last season and playing in the Big Ten's East division, both Phil Steele and SB Nation's Bill Connelly both suggest that Maryland could be a bowl team in 2016. A 4-0 start isn't completely inconceivable; the Terps start the season with Howard (the Duck?), Florida International, Central Florida (and Scott Frost) and then Purdue. But to do that, Maryland needs to pull off at least one upset before finishing the season with a home game against Rutgers. If that happens, let's hope it's well before mid-November.